Dynamic but unliveable

Dynamic but unliveable

Bengaluru's SPLIT identity: Indian cities are becoming more and more complex to understand and manage. A key element in this complexity is population

Two news items appeared around the same time about Karnataka’s capital city. One celebrating Bengaluru for emerging at the top of the JLL City Momentum Index pipping the global financial hotspot, London. The other berating its premier civic body - the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) — by the Karnataka High Court for having virtually gone into a coma. It is strange that the city ranked as the most dynamic in the world is turning out to be the most unliveable city. How do you explain this paradox?

Two explanations can be offered. One is that the city has extraordinary talent, it has the capacity to attract the best of technology firms from across the world and it continues to create wealth. So the city keeps growing in size and population, drawing people from all over the country who see opportunities for employment and living in a modern metropolis. This is the brighter side of the picture.

The second explanation is that the government has failed to cope with the rapid growth of the city, be it provision of physical infrastructure or other public services. Hence, living conditions are deteriorating by the day and the people are getting frustrated driving them to courts to seek remedies for what are essentially civic issues.

The question may well be asked: does Bengaluru have a split personality? According to the medical definition, ‘split personality’ refers to ‘multiple personality disorder’ where the personality becomes dissociated into two or more distinct parts each of which becomes dominant and controls behaviour from time to time to the exclusion of other parts.

If we consider a city not just as a physical entity but as a place where people live, work and interact, the features of a living organism manifest themselves. Just as a highly complex sustaining structure requires coordination of a large number of constituent entities that need efficient servicing, in cities, constituent entities are city dwellers whose efforts keep the city developing.

Using this analogy, it can be said that the Indian cities are becoming more and more complex to understand and manage. A key element in this complexity is population. As the number of constitue­nts in a given space keeps increasing, the resources required to keep them healthy in all respects becomes challenging. Sho­rtage of resources including clean air and water can lead to multiple disorders. This is precisely what has happened to the large and still growing cities in India.

Coming back to the ranking of dynamic cities, what the Index has done is to track the speed of the change of a city’s economy and commercial real estate market, and identifying those cities that have the most dynamic attributes.

The various elements of dynamism have been analysed under three sub-indices: a)socio-economic momentum relating to changes in city GDP, population, air passengers, corporate headquarters and FDI; b)commercial real estate momentum relating to changes in absorption, construction, rents, investment volumes and transparency; and c)high value incubators with regard to the ability of underlying attributes of a city to maintain momentum over a longer term, that is, its future-proofing capacity, in terms of education, innovation and environment.

Ad hoc solutions

What has provided momentum for Bengaluru is the speed of change in population, economic growth and real estate development. However, rapid growth has also led to issues impacting the quality of life. The crime graph is rising, people commute longer distances battling chao­tic traffic, tensions are mounting, person­al and social, and the environment is wor­sening belying the hopes of a garden city.

Things are made more complicated by the government, appearing helpless or coming out with ad hoc solutions. Thus, the picture that Bengaluru presen­ts is that of a split personality — one side presenting a technologically advanced city with the best of human resource and the other an ugly face and a body whose health is deteriorating almost every day.

How are we, as people, coping with the changes? Here is where the multiple disorder phenomenon comes into play. Bengaluru which prides itself as highly cosmopolitan is in reality a city of multiple identities. It houses communities which are labelled, such as the ‘IT crowd’, that claims to have brought prosperity to the city, the ‘elitists’ who live in gated communities and villas, the ‘outsiders’ who corner the benefits the city offers but refuse to learn the local language and the ‘locals’ who keep adjusting to the changes but are saddened by what has happened to their beloved city.

Several citizens groups have emerged in the recent past with the goal of arresting the degradation of the city and improve the living conditions. They organise protests against the ‘undesirable’ actions of the government - from cutting trees to building steel flyovers to imposing an unwanted master plan. But they also find themselves up against their own fellow citizens who violate the civic laws with impunity and who have no concern for their neighbours or for the city at large. Hence, the call for unity by some well meaning civic associations evokes only a half-hearted response.

Can Bengaluru ever witness the kind of massive Marina Beach protest in Che­nnai on an issue like Jallikattu, invoking ‘Tamil pride’ or can it ever generate ‘Kannada pride’ the way ‘Marathi pride’ is generated by Shiv Sena in Mumbai? The economically and technologically dyna­mic Bengaluru is also characterised by identity fragmentation and reflects the failure to integrate the different aspects of identity and consciousness into a single multidimensional self. The big challenge is to address this issue of integration.

If Bengaluru has to retain its competitive edge, it must address the question of what the Index has called the ‘future-proofing capacity’ — the capacity to sustain the dynamic attributes in the long-term. Hence, it must focus on “liveability, affordability, social and spatial inequalities, environmental quality and community transparency”. If it loses the long-term vision, it runs the risk of losing not only its top global position but being overtaken by its Indian competitor, Hyderabad, ranked the fifth most dynamic city.

(The writer is a retired chief secretary, Karnataka)